Time to act on spiralling cost of ‘free’ education
2019-05-01 15:51:55 -

By Aodhán Ó Ríordáin


In the Seanad this month, I reiterated my proposal for a ban on voluntary contributions in Irish primary and secondary schools. This proposal is included in the Labour Party’s Free Education Bill which progressed through the second stage in the Seanad.


The relationship between parents and schools should not be a financial one. Yet it has increasingly become just that. There has been a rise in the number of parents paying so-called ‘voluntary’ contributions, with 67 per cent of primary and 71 per cent of secondary school pupils being asked to contribute.


Half of parents have seen an increase in the costs since last year. It is manifestly unfair to put parents in a position where there are financial blocks put in the way of their children’s education. Children have a right to free and fair access to education. In our Constitution, Article 42.4 recognises that right.


Parents shouldn’t be forced to pick up the tab for the failure of the Government to fund the actual costs of educating our children. Voluntary contributions are a marker of an education system which is inadequately funded and they place an unfair burden on families.


Voluntary contributions should be done away with. The legislation I introduced in the Seanad to ban the practice was expected to move to the second stage as I write. I and my party colleagues also outlined costed plans to make primary education free as part of our alternative Budget for 2019.


According to Barnardos’ annual school costs survey from 2017, more than half of primary school parents (56%) are asked for a voluntary contribution to help fund schools.


Given that our Constitution specifically provides for free primary education for our children, this is an outrageous situation and is becoming an increasing burden for numerous families, many of whom are already struggling with day to day living costs, including high rents.


At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Minister for Education and his Cabinet colleagues. If he has the political will to curtail the spiralling costs of back-to-school and is willing to commit to free education for all, I have no doubt he would find broad support across the political spectrum. Parents and children deserve better than this, and it is time for the government to act.


Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a Labour Party Senator.

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